Happy birthday to the first vinyl LP! Today marks 70 years to the day since Columbia Records first introduced the 12″ 33 1⁄3 RPM microgroove long playing record with a copy of Mendelssohn’s Concerto In E Minor, performed by violinist Nathan Milstein with the New York Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra conducted by Bruno Walter. (Several 10″ records were also introduced around the same time.) To commemorate the occasion, Reuters reports, Sony Classical and British music retailer HMV have made 500 replicas of the Milstein/New York Philharmonic Mendelssohn LP to give away to fans, with one donated to the archive of the British Library.
“The fact that the long playing record came into existence was a huge step for music sound recording and for the listener,” says Andy Linehan, curator of popular music in the British Library sound archive. “Previously you could only get three minutes or so onto one side of a record and now because you had a narrower groove and a slower speed, you could get up to 20 minutes, which meant you could get a whole classical piece on one side of a record … you could get a whole package of songs together on one record.” And thus, the album as we know it was born. (Previously, albums were sets of 78 RPM records bound together in literal album book form.)
Research into the long playing record began in 1941 under the direction of Columbia president Edward Wallerstein, who wanted consumers to be able to hear an entire movement of a symphony on one side of a record. CBS Laboratories head Peter Goldmark led the team, which included pioneering Columbia engineers William Savory, William Bachman, and Howard Scott. Although work was suspended during World War II, it resumed in 1945, and the fruit of their labor, the LP, was finally unveiled in a June 1948 press conference at the Waldorf Astoria. Despite minor refinements and the later advent of stereophonic sound, the LP has remained the standard format for vinyl albums since its invention. Happy 70th!